James Poulos proposes having a U.S. Israel relationship that is mostly the same as the one that already exists:
This ought to result in an attitude of care and forbearance toward Israel — aid and friendship mixed with quiet thankfulness that its burden is not our own. Unfortunately, in America, it’s easy to view others through the lens of our favorite abstract principles. In Israel, at any rate, the Israeli predicament is not an abstraction. That’s why Benjamin Netanyahu won re-election, and that’s why politicians like Netanyahu aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. For Bush as much as any responsible American leader, the task is to accept that — and to use skilled statecraft not to be drawn too deeply into the punishing pattern of European politics still playing out in the Middle East.
Poulos comments on Jeb Bush earlier in the column, but doesn’t mention that Bush has explicitly said that he thinks the appropriate standard for the relationship is that it should be so close that there will be “no light” between America and its client. I agree with Poulos that it would be better if the relationship were “not too close,” but Bush has already rejected this. If Poulos should fault anyone for “stumbling badly” on this question, it should be Bush and the other candidates that have made similar statements.
It’s never clear in Poulos’ argument why the U.S. ought to be providing Israel with this “care” and “aid.” Because it “is a nation-state created in Europe’s image”? That’s not a very compelling reason. The comparison with European allies is also misleading since they are, in fact, treaty allies, and they do contribute something to their alliance with the U.S. (The U.S. should want to discourage “cheap-riding” by its genuine allies, too, but that is a different question.) Poulos refers to an attitude of “care and forbearance,” which has been more or less the attitude of many “pro-Israel” Americans for a long time. In practice, however, the U.S. has shown “forbearance” by indulging Israeli governments in their worst policies and only occasionally, hesitantly challenging them on settlements. Especially over the last twenty years or so, it has shown “care” and “friendship” by reflexively supporting Israeli actions, and that has led successive Israeli governments to believe that the U.S. won’t seriously object to anything they do. The U.S. enables its client’s reckless behavior, and the client has since responded by demonstrating its contempt for U.S. policy goals. There shouldn’t be “forbearance” for any of that, and the sooner that there isn’t the relationship should be much healthier.